Jealousy is extremely common; most people experience it from time to time, including those in open relationships. Having the skills to handle jealousy when it arises can make a huge difference for you, your partner(s), and your relationship(s).
In my last post, I offered a guided reflection for getting in touch with your body in order to get grounded and give your mind a break. Any time you are feeling upset and experiencing lots of intrusive thoughts or feelings, that is a good place to start.
If you need a moment to ground yourself, check out that guided reflection; then come back here once you’re feeling more settled. If you’re calm, grounded in the present moment, and ready to forge ahead and start tackling the narrative of jealousy at its roots, read on.
Notice the narrative
When you experience jealousy, you’re probably telling yourself a story about how to interpret the emotions you are experiencing. Often, these narratives lead us to feel worse, not better.
As a representative from your local Department of Happiness, I’d like to encourage you to start to be aware of the stories that you tell yourself that affect your emotional experience. Are you telling yourself a story that helps you feel better, or one that makes you feel worse? This is the key: You get to choose the story that you continue to tell.
Jealousy often leads us to fixate on stories about a dire future. For instance, “My partner being romantically involved with this other person is just their way of trying to move toward a breakup with me.”
Stories involving comparison are also common: “My partner’s romantic and sexual attraction to this other person is a sign that there’s something unattractive about me,” or, “My partner is probably comparing my qualities with their other partner’s qualities right now, and figuring out that I’m really falling short/not that attractive/quite disappointing.”
Do any of these stories sound familiar? If not, can you identify what scary, unsettling, or downright mean thoughts have been rattling around in your head? They might be thoughts about you, your partner, someone else, or the future. There might be several, or there might be just a single really sticky one. Make a little list of the ones that seem to be most present.
Once you’re aware of the stories you are telling yourself, you can start to gain conscious control over them. The stories we tell ourselves when we’re jealous, anxious, lonely, or in the grips of any other difficult emotion usually feel true, but that doesn’t mean they are. You have a choice about what stories you tell yourself. You don’t have to continue telling yourself stories that cause you pain, particularly if they aren’t true.
Check the assumptions
If part of your story revolves around something that you fear your partner might be thinking, you can check that assumption with your partner. You might learn that their perception of the situation is completely different from what you’ve been fearing.
You could try starting out like this: “When you were on a date with so-and-so the other night, I realized that I was having a whole bunch of fears, and I want to check some of those out with you. Would you be willing to talk to me about that?”
I don’t know what your partner will say in response to your fears, but I can tell you what I often hear my polyamorous clients tell their partners: “I don’t compare the two of you. When I’m with you, I’m with you. When I’m with them, I’m with them. These relationships aren’t in competition with one another.”
Of course, when you check an assumption with someone, you have to be open to hearing their perspective. Whatever it is that your partner is telling you, let it in. Breathe, get grounded, and receive what your partner is telling you. Let it shift your narrative or otherwise inform your thinking. Ask more questions if you aren’t sure what they are telling you.
Usually, checking assumptions results in an understanding that is at least a little bit more positive than the original scary thought. Ideally, you can then use this new information as a tool to debunk similar scary stories you might tell yourself the next time the situation arises.
Checking your assumptions with your partner is an awesome tool for stopping negative narratives in their tracks. That said, at the end of the day, you’re in charge of the narrative you tell yourself. The more empowered you feel, the easier it will be to support a narrative that brings you joy.